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‘Investing in people key for future development’ Gulf Bank Chairman addresses group of visiting HBS students, alumni

KUWAIT CITY, Jan 8: Omar Alghanim, CEO of Alghanim Industries and Chairman of Gulf Bank, addressed visiting second year Harvard Business School (HBS) students and members of the Harvard UniversityAlumni Association of Kuwait (HUAAK)on the importance of entrepreneurism during a dinner on Jan 6, which was sponsored by the HUAAK to mark the inauguralHBS ‘Trek’ to Kuwait. Attending the dinner were 30 students from HBS as part of a business tour of the GCC, which included stops in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.The visit to Kuwait was organised by Hamad Al Wazzan and KhaledJafar, who are currently studying at HBS. Also present at the dinner was Dr Brian Hall, the Albert H. GordonProfessor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, as well as several prominent Kuwaiti Harvard alumni, including: Mohammad Eissa, Managing Director of Gulf Investment Corporation, Yousef Al Essa, CEO, Amwal International Investment Company and Salah Al Fulaij, CEO, NBK Capital .

Alghanim, who is also an HBS alumnus, spoke at length on the importance of entrepreneurism and its crucial role in the future economic development of Kuwait and the other GCC economies. He said: “If we in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region are to see our economic potential realised, real change needs to happen. We have to ensure that our business environment encourages new business growth, and we fully recognise the role our young people will play in our future prosperity.  “To improve the environment for business, we must make it easier for business start-ups to form and thrive. MENA as a regioncurrently fairs very poorly for starting a business when compared to the rest of the world. The latest World Bank research positions MENA at 104 overall, when compared against 189 countries. Changes, such as reducing the bureaucracy around starting a business, addressing sponsorship arrangements so that the right qualified people can be attracted and ensuring that investors are properly protected, are all positive steps which are readily achievable and will help to move the region forward.

Convinced
“But I am convinced that the most important driver of change — and the most pressing need — is our willingness to invest in our most precious asset, our people, especially as more and more young people are coming on to the job market. “Today, unemployment amongst young people in MENA is the highest in the world, at just under 30%, when the world average is around 13%. Yet our investment in education is on a par, if not more than any other region. Governments spend much time and money exploring education reform and forgetting to focus on providing practical skills and training to impress employers and allow them to develop business ideas, generate wealth and manage it. “The result of this style of learning has led to a lack of entrepreneurism in the region which many local economies have been able to mask through reliance on oil revenues. For example, in Kuwait today, 93% of Kuwaitis work in the public sector. Yet we all know that the long term economic health of our region depends on vibrant, diversified economies and that these are only possible with a dynamic private sector driven by entrepreneurism.  “The solution does not rely on governments to solve alone. They cannot continue to take the strain of employment.  The private sector must play its part in spurring entrepreneurship in the region, if for no other reason than simply because it has the most to lose if it doesn’t.

“To illustrate the magnitude of the problem, the World Bank estimates that 66 million new jobs for MENA youth must be created in next 10 years. If this is to be achieved then we must work together to make education more relevant to the job market, and provide career guidance, job experience and financial support in an environment which welcomes and encourages entrepreneurism. “The first steps of progress towards these goals are being taken and we are now seeing closer ties between government and the private sectorto build entrepreneurism into general business culture in MENA. Initiatives such as INJAZ, which is supported by both the private and the public sector, are beginning to have an impact but more commitment and effort is needed if entrepreneurism in this region is to flourish. Investing in our people in this way is, in my opinion,the only way to create thefuture thriving and dynamic society we envisage.” The HBS Trek to Kuwait took place between Jan 3-6, 2014.

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